Invisible Leadership

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Michael Richardson
  • 60th Air Mobility Wing

TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – What do the words “invisible leadership” make you think of? When I think of invisible leadership, I think of leading people even though I don’t know exactly who is following. Similar to referent power, invisible leadership is when you influence followers because of the followers’ loyalty, respect, friendship, admiration, affection or a desire to gain approval.

However, with invisible leadership your followers aren’t always the ones that work directly for you or that you see every day. Here’s a quick example of what I’m talking about.

Before I joined the military, I held a summer job with my older brother. We were like most siblings, argued over things that looking back, didn’t matter, but at the time seemed very important.

One day, we got into a fight and got more carried away then normal. I thought it was just the two of us in the room.  We got to swinging at each other until my older brother decided to walk away. It wasn’t until a week or so later that I learned what invisible leadership was.

I was talking to a younger guy who worked with us and we got to talking about the fight I had with my brother. He went on to tell me how he had started to look up to me and how he ended up walking into the same room that my brother and I had fought in the previous week. He saw us duke it out. He told me he was disappointed and looked at me differently.

Those were hard words to hear. I had never been in a position of leadership before, but knowing I had let him down really bothered me. That has always stuck with me and makes me think twice about what I’m doing when no one is watching.

On the flip side of that, I think a lot of us can relate to the other guy in my story.  Have you had a leader that you admire, but that person doesn’t even know who you are? Maybe a commander or chief that you wouldn’t just walk up to and speak with, but when they walk in a room, you think, “I want to be like that guy or girl.” They have that invisible leadership I’m talking about and odds are, you have it too. If they ended up getting a driving under the influence charge or something, it would change the way you look at them because they let you down. It’s one thing to lead a group of people that are right in front of you and you know who they are, but it’s that group that may not always be right in front of you that you are also leading.

No one expects us to be perfect and we are all going to make poor choices at one point or another. How we deal with that and recover from it will determine how people look at us or choose to follow us.